top of page

Pre-Marital Sex and Catholicism

Updated: Feb 4, 2022

By Luke Lancaster

What are the Church’s teachings on sexuality? Can one have sexual relations outside of marriage? According to the Catholic Church, sexuality is designed by God solely for those who are bonded to each other for life in the sacrament of matrimony. The reasons for this are deep and are discussed below.

Language of the Body

The first reason is the language of the body. Every person has body language. If somebody is irritated, they do not have to use words to convey that information. They can cross their arms, clench their jaw, make an irritated “face,” breathe more intensely, etc. The same is true for sexuality. When a man and a woman unite as one flesh, they convey information about their relationship. Their movements and their touch imply something unbelievable – that their inner hearts are united as one. They are implying a mysteriously total, complete, and permanent gift of themselves to each other. It is a sacred manner of relating to each other in the most intimate way possible. The body communicates this truth whether it is vocalized or not. A true and wholesome communion of persons forms during sexual relations, and this is taken lightly by non-married couples.

Marriage Vows

Catholicism teaches that sexual relations is truly the body language of the marriage vows. The vows during a marriage ceremony say that the couple will be freely, faithfully, fruitfully, and totally committed to each other. No matter how hard or how unpleasant life gets, both spouses will stick by each other. As the Song of Songs 2:16 says, “It is he [husband] to whom I [wife] entrust myself, and I am his.” The vows of marriage are before God, and He creates a supernatural superglue between the spouses at that very moment. The masculine and the feminine are sealed together by Divine love. The sexual actions done after the marriage vows consummate these vows and presuppose their existence.

Lying with the Body

Now, if a sexual act between a couple imitates the marital vows in a bodily way, then the act itself is most properly called the marital act. That is the only context the act is designed to take place in. The vows take flesh in the physical (non-spoken) language of sexual relations. Such a non-spoken manner of relating to one another imply these previously spoken vows. So, when a couple is not married and they unite themselves together in a sexual capacity, they are lying with their bodies. They imply with their bodies that they have vowed themselves together through God’s sacrament of supernatural superglue - when they have never been. Such a lie is similar to the body language of a used car salesman, who confidently attempts to sell off a car to you without vocally sharing that it has serious engine and transmission issues. His body communicates that the car is in tip top shape, yet that is communicating a lie. The same with sex before marriage.

The Telos of Sexual Relations

The end goals (telos) of sexual relations are most fitted for married people. The first telos for the sexual act is reproduction, for reproductive organs are biologically designed for reproduction. The intimate communion of love between two people is designed to bring about the gift of new life (children). Only in marriage, whereby the couple has vowed to each other that they are in it together, are they most fitted to have children. So, sexual relations need to be between married people. For the full meaning and consequence of the sincere gift of self implies procreation. Not only this, but the sexual act itself is designed to solidify the union between the two people. It bonds them together to form that stable foundation for the new lives (children) to be brought about by the fruit of their love. For example, studies have shown that the hormone known as “oxytocin” is released when a couple embraces sexually. This is a bonding hormone that forms a super glue type of attachment between the spouses. It even blinds people from seeing the faults in their significant other! So, sexual relations – a true loving communion of persons – must possess the desires of babies (procreation) and bonding (unification), and this is most fitted for married couples.

Ready for Sexual Relations?

Many think that if a non-married couple is in love, then they should have sexual relations. However, love is about willing the good of the other. If they will the good of each other, then the question needs to be asked: is it in the couple's best interests to engage in a reproductive action that may result in a child? Are they ready to be a mother and a father? Having children takes tens of thousands of dollars. Keeping in mind that there is no supernatural superglue uniting the couple together (via the marriage vows), how could they be ready when the man could bail at any moment? Is it best for potential children to potentially have no father? Fatherless children are rampant in our society because of this, and such children are more likely to get into drugs, alcohol, crime, and poverty. I personally volunteer at a women's shelter for single, pregnant Moms, and I am certain that they wish they had not had relations before marriage. Their lives are now tremendously more difficult and they have learned the hard way that sexual relations is not a recreational activity.


Frequently when unmarried people engage in sexual relations in our modern culture, they are only using each other. Instead of seeing the person from the eyes of the heart – as a subject – the person is seen as an object. People become mere “things” to be used for our own sexual desires. The dignity of persons cannot be defined solely based upon their sexuality. Doing so violates personhood. There is more to the person than simply the fleshly, pleasurable aspect of them. The Catholic Church warns people caught in this narrow view of humanity, wanting them to see the whole picture – that people are subjects and not objects. For only being concerned with pleasure or “eros” does not satisfy. Love is “greater than what the ‘body’ is able to express” (Pope John Paul II, Theology of the Body). Sexual desires are good, and the pleasure which comes from them are good, but only if couples are viewing each other as subjects, and only if they are consummating their desires in the proper context (marriage). Only within the marriage context should both masculinity and femininity unite in a sincere gift of self (the marital act). Pleasure (arousal) needs to be combined with a subjective view or love for the person (emotion).


Catholicism teaches that all people need to develop the virtue of self-control. Ever since the Fall of humanity in Genesis 3, human passions have gone out of wack. People desire things that they are not supposed to desire, meaning a disordering of passion. This is the case with sexuality as well. Humans have a choice: either the passions will control the person, or the person will control the passions. Mastery over the body is essential for growing in union with God. The question naturally arises, then: do I want to be in control of my sexuality, or do I want my sexuality to control me? Will I utilize my sexuality in its designed context alone (marriage), or will I passively let sensuality take the wheel (fornication)? True love for others only springs from a mastered heart and not from a disordered heart.


Jesus says in Matthew 15:19 that the heart of mankind is filled with evil desires, such as “fornications.” The desire to have sexual relations outside of its intended context is a disordered desire. St. Paul says that the body of a Christian is indwelled by the holiest thing in all of creation: the Holy Spirit. This Spirit makes the body a sort of “Temple,” meaning that everything one does with the body, one does with the Holy Spirit. If sins are committed with the body, then the Holy Spirit is taken along for the ride as well, and that profanes and defiles the Temple. See 1 Corinthians 6:18-19 and Ephesians 5:3.


Sexual relations should only take place between two people whose love for each other is as “strong as death” (Song of Songs). That type of sacrificial love crystalizes in the marriage vows, whereby the man loves the woman so much that he invokes God’s presence within the Church’s sacrament and invites the whole woman’s family to take part in witnessing it. That is deep and mystifying love, and all sexual actions after that point consummate the marriage vow. Sexual relations outside of marriage is cheap love. It is a lie, whereby people act out the non-existent vows to be total, faithful, and fruitful.

bottom of page